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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Southern Morocco, 1 - 4 May 2010,
I visited Morocco for 2 weeks back in 1994 and despite managing to see a good number of the country’s specialities, I also managed to miss quite a few, while ongoing taxonomic changes have also resulted in several new species being recognised as well as a number of other potential splits.
This very short trip was therefore designed specifically to try to catch up with as many as possible of these target birds.
I had just 3 days birding available, covered some pretty hefty mileage, and was also travelling alone, and as a result I undoubtedly missed many birds, both common and rare. I also had to leave both the coastal areas and the woods around Ifrane for another time, and due to time constraints, and the impossibility of being at all places at the right time had to pass on looking for species such as Egyptian Nightjar and Houbara.
Nevertheless, I managed to see 10 of the 12 target birds I had identified before the trip, missing just Fulvous Babbler and African Desert Warbler, although I was disappointed to find out subsequently that Dunn’s Lark were also in the area I visited.
Huge thanks are due to the many birders who gave me advice and answered queries during the planning of this trip.
Flights were booked with Ryanair, from Bristol to Marrakech, departing on the evening of Saturday 1.5.10, and arriving back late on Tuesday 4.5.10. Cost was UKP 60, hand baggage only.
I booked a car (Clio saloon) through Thrifty, at a cost of UKP 110 for the 3 days. Very disappointing – no one at the desk when I arrived, losing me an hour until someone eventually turned up, and the same when I arrived back to drop it off. I paid extra for a car with air con, only to find it wasn’t working, and neither was the cigarette lighter, which meant that my pre-programmed sat nav ran out of battery half way through the first morning, and couldn’t be recharged!! Not recommended.
I stayed 1.5.10 at Chez Juju in Oukaimeden at the outrageous price of Dirham 960 (UKP 80) for bed, breakfast and dinner. Far too expensive for what it was, but limited other options in Oukaimeden. Booked by phone - +212 5 24 31 90 05
I then stayed 2 nights at Riad Soleil Bleu, Boumalne du Dades at Dirham 400 (UKP 33) per night for bed, breakfast and dinner, which was a bit more reasonable.
Despite driving very long distances, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Moroccan roads, especially along the stretch from Amerzgane to Rissani – these appear to have been upgraded very recently and the wide, smooth tarmac was very different from my recollection of these roads from 15 years ago, when both lanes of traffic fought over the 2 meter wide strip of tarmac down the middle of the road, and avoided hurtling over onto the gravel verge until the last possible second!
The road from Marrakech to Oukaimeden and in particular the road over the Tizi-n-Tichka to Ouarzazate, however, were a very different matter – well surfaced, but incredibly twisting and slow – allow at least 3.5 hours or even more to cover the Marrakech – Ouarzazate stretch, without stops.
Plenty of police checkpoints along the route as well – most just waved me through, but I was stopped several times, sometimes to check my papers and sometimes just to chat and ask where I was from. I was also pulled over once for speeding, on the outskirts of Errachidia, but I pretended to speak no French and eventually they got fed up and told me to continue.
I made use of the huge number of trip reports available on the web, mostly sourced through www.travellingbirder.com, the most useful of which were by Richard Bonser (May 07), Ben Macdonald (Mar 10), Fraser Simpson (May 07) and John Dempsey (April 07).
Postings on www.birdforum.net also produced some very useful information and advice.
Dave Gosney’s new “Finding Birds in Morocco: the deserts” (ISBN 978-1-907316-02-9) was crucial – I have referred to it many times later in this report – if you haven’t got a copy, I strongly suggest you buy it. I also used his earlier “Finding birds in Southern Morocco” (ISBN 1-898-110-042) and Patrick and Fedora Bergier’s “A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Morocco” (ISBN 1-871104-01-7)
The map I used was Hallwag’s 1:1,000,000 Morocco map, which was perfectly adequate for finding my way around, in conjunction with the maps in Gosney and Bergier’s books, as well as some printouts from Google Maps and Google Earth that I prepared before I travelled. I also downloaded the Tom Tom map of Morocco, but that lasted all of 2 hours before running out of battery, complete with all my pre-entered GPS co-ordinates obtained from the above resources.
For sound recordings, I downloaded some recordings from http://www.xeno-canto.org/africa/ and also bought Claude Chappuis’s 4 CD set “African Bird Sounds – 1 – North West Africa, Canaria and Cap Verde Islands”
Arrived in Marrakech at 19:00, picked up hire car and headed up to Oukaimeden, doing most of the journey in the dark, hence only birds seen were House Bunting at Marrakech airport.
Up at dawn (07:00) to look for first of my target species. Eventually found a singing Seebohm’s Wheatear on slope to right of ski lifts, but no sign of Crimson-winged Finch or Atlas Shore Lark. Plenty of noisy Rock Sparrows as well as Black Redstart, African Blue Tit, Chough and also found local races of Blackbird and Mistle Thrush.
Info read before the trip suggested that best chance for Crimson-winged Finch was in the first hour after dawn, so by 9:30 gave up and started heading down the mountain.
Stopped on the descent at the site detailed by Simpson for Tristram’s Warbler (near prominent radio antenna on right hand side of road), but only found a singing Subalpine Warbler. However, another stop 1.2 km further down the mountain produced a singing Tristram’s Warbler in a patch of bushes below the road. A pair of Kestrel here briefly got my pulse racing, and a stop just before the village of Ourika gave nice views of a Western Olivaceous Warbler.
Long drive (6 hours) through the surprisingly large city of Ouarzazate and on to Boumalne du Dades, where I headed straight for the Tagdilt Track, but a few hours here before dark doing the loop down the new Ikniouen Road to Wheatear wall and back up the old track failed to produce either of my 2 target species (Thick-billed Lark and Western Mourning Wheatear). Things weren’t going too well, although some compensation in the form of White-crowned Black Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Red-rumped Wheatear, Desert Lark, Short-toed Lark, Temminck’s Horned Lark, Trumpeter Finch and Long-legged Buzzard.
Dawn saw me back at the Tagdilt Track, this time starting on the old track, and I quickly found a superb Thick-billed Lark alongside the car on the plateau area beyond the main wadi. A Hoopoe Lark was seen in flight a little further along, as well as Short-toed Lark, Temminck’s Horned Lark, Desert Wheatear and Long-legged Buzzard, but no Western Mourning Wheatear.
Having got the lark so quickly, I decided to press on eastwards and headed for Rissani. A random roadside stop just east of Jorf produced a singing Rufous Bushchat. Driving south from Erfoud towards Rissani, I got great views of a Long-billed Crested Lark on roadside wires near Ksar El-Jabil.
On arriving at Rissani, I stopped just after the bridge over the Oued Ziz, as described in Gosney’s book, and walked northwards up the wadi. Common Bulbul and another Long-billed Crested Lark were seen here before I found the first of 5 Saharan Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters flying over the wadi, and seeming to favour a large electricity pylon. Arriving at the row of tamarisks described by Gosney I immediately heard a singing Saharan Olivaceous Warbler, and this showed well both perched and in song flight between bushes.
Back to the car, picking up White-crowned Black Wheatear en route, and pressed onwards tp the Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua in the hope of Fulvous Babbler. At this point luck deserted me temporarily –there no sign of any babblers in 2 hours although admittedly at midday, wht the gardens producing only White-crowned Black Wheatear, Rufous Bushchat and Woodchat Shrike.
Furthermore, because of time constraints, I had decided to come straight here rather than first trying the piste further to the south towards the Café Yasmina – I later found out that not only were African Desert Warblers apparently abundant along this stretch, but that several Dunn’s Larks were also being seen here and appeared to be breeding. So frustrating to think that I was just a few kilometres away, and didn’t know they were there!!
From the Kasbah Derkaoua I drove north to the Hotel Said wadi – the piste along this stretch was find with just a couple of short sandy patches, seeing a pair of Saharan Grey Shrikes and a superb Hoopoe Lark right next to the car a couple of hundred metres north of the Kasbah Derkaoua. No sign of Afrcian Desert Warbler in this traditional spot, however, despite searching fro some time among the low bushes.
Time was now running away from me, so I abandoned my search here for Desert Warbler and pressed on to Errachidia, and on to the km 29 spot described by Frasier Simpson. Sadly, my experience of this site was much closer to Ben Macdonald’s and an hour’s walking up and down the wadi produced only a Saharan Grey Shrike and a Long-legged Buzzard.
I therefore drove on to the site near km43 described by Gosney, and walked out to the small patch of bushes to look for Maghreb Scrub Warbler. No luck initially, seeing only Spectacled Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and a strange female Pied-type flycatcher with a very pale rump – that one eluded identification I’m afraid.
I was soon joined by a crew of 4 French birders who spre4ad out to search, and one of them eventually found a small bird creeping around on the ground between tussocks - a Maghreb Scrub Warbler which gave excellent views. Walking back to the car, a pair of Spotted Sandgrouse flew over.
By now it was getting late, but I figured if I put my foot down I might just have a chance of a dusk visit to the Tagdilt Track.
I got to the Ikniouen road turn-off with about 40 minutes of daylight left, and drove to Wheatear Wall, seeing 4 Cream-coloured Courser on the way, and a stakeout of the wall eventually produced a brief view of a single Western Mourning Wheatear – it seemed quite a scruffy, poorly-marked bird, perhaps a youngster? Trumpeter Finches also put in several appearances here.
Having seen all my target desert birds apart from Fulvous Babbler and African Desert Warbler, I had a dilemma this morning. My initial thoughts were to head for the Barrage El Mansour area in the hope of finding a babbler, but I then decided to head for Oukaimeden instead, figuring that I’d make another effort to see the Crimson-winged Finch, and leave myself with a relatively short drive back to Marrakech to catch my flight.
Leaving at dawn, I drove more or less non-stop to Oukaimeden, arriving at 12:30. Having spent most of my time on the last visit searching around the car park and bottom of the ski lift, I decided to change tactics this time and walked up the broad track up hill, to the right of the ski lift, into the shallow valley beyond. This paid off almost immediately, with a flock of about 8 Crimson-winged Finches flushing up the hillside and landing on rocks and the walls of the ruined buildings. They were quite distant and gave poor views, but I eventually managed to get closer views of one female.
I headed further up hill, then crossed over the shallow valley, and worked my way down the other side, hoping to come down on them from above, but was unable to relocate them, although excellent close up views of a singing Atlas Shore Lark made the walk worthwhile. Also in this area were Rock Sparrow, House Bunting, Chough, Mistle Thrush and a Song Thrush.
Time to head back to Marrakech, although a brief stop in pine woods a few kilometres down the mountain produced a singing Moussier’s Redstart, as well as North African Chaffinch, Serin and Woodchat Shrike and Spotted Flycatcher, while a final stop after Ourika village produced a Cirl Bunting.
A very short and tiring trip, and quite low in terms of total species seen, but high on quality and most of my target species safely in the bag, and at a total trip cost of about UKP 375, excellent value for money – with 2 people, it would have worked out at about UKP 200 each!